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No service, no diploma

April 20, 1999

No Washington County high school senior has ever been denied a diploma for failing to complete the 75 hours of public service mandated by state law, according to Fred Jacobs, Washington County coordinator of the Student Service Learning program. They should be, and the changes that have redefined "community service" into classroom make-work should be reversed as soon as possible.

The Student Service Learning Requirement was enacted in 1994, based on the sensible notion that the community at large had done a lot for these children, and they owed it something in return. To us, the 75-hour requirement was the bare minimum; over a four-year high school career, just two hours of service each month would allow the student to complete the requirement in a little more than three years.

There was also the fond hope that if students were exposed to the real world and its needs - all the lonely people in nursing homes who never get a visitor, for example - they would go above and beyond the requirement, making themselves better people and Maryland a better place in which to live.

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Unfortunately, however, the program was beset from the outset by an army of whiners, who moaned and groaned about "involuntary servitude" and their children's busy schedules. Apparently, they have succeeded in transforming the program into something in which few children will ever be confronted by unpleasant realities, or fellow citizens in need, because now only 15 hours of service must be performed outside of school.

While we don't doubt that there's some value in building birdhouses and cleaning up school grounds, it's not what lawmakers had in mind when they put this program together. If school officials can't summon the courage to get this program back into the community, they should petition the Maryland General Assembly to allow them to spend more class time on academics and less on a program that's been bent so far out of shape it's nearly unrecognizable.

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